From Dirt Issue 113 – July 2011
ON WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN JUST ANOTHER TUESDAY NIGHT IN LATE MAY, THE FOURTH ROUND OF THE SPRING SERIES WENT DOWN IN SHEFFIELD. IT REPRESENTED THE ‘FOUR PINT’ STAGE OF THE SERIES, BECAUSE IT’S ONLY AFTER FOUR PINTS THAT A LOCAL MASS START DH WITH BEER DRINKING INCLUDED COULD HAVE BEEN DREAMT UP. CODE NAMED: MEGADEATH.
The scene in Sheffield is on a roll, riding a seemingly unstoppable wave of momentum. Opportunities are constantly presenting themselves and we have enough people who are keen and able enough to seize them, and it’s these people who are the key. Aside from a huge number of riders we have a very strong figurehead in Steve Peat who is incredibly generous with his time and catalyses progress. We’ve got forward thinking council officials and land owners who see the value and joy in riding bikes and want to give us access.
Back in Dirt #96 I wrote an article about the first series of Mates Races I organised, the Bash–Up. From a handful of mates on a wet afternoon it became this bi–annual event with a 40 plus field of riders burning tanks of fuel to ride with us. Unwittingly I learned a lot about race organisation, because although they’re all mates they still want to know how fast they went and want a race plate, sticker and piss up afterwards. With a mobile phone, stopwatch and mates anyone can do it.
The Bash–Up eventually had to be shut down leaving a void in our race scene. To fill that void I chopped up some plastic pipe that became slalom posts for the first dual race in my local park. The concept worked well: simple, fun and everyone loved it. Using the momentum the first race created I started a dual race series, but being winter we needed lights so anyone that had decent lights had to bring them and strap them to a tree. Every two weeks we raced in an attempt to claim bragging rights. Word spread, so an ever–increasing number of riders turned up and everyone with a light was welcomed. At sign–up everyone chucked two quid in the pot and a random prize in the pile meaning everyone won something and ‘the podium’ gave an opportunity for everyone to get together, for me to spout on about what’s happening next time and to give each other a clap and a pat on the back. The whole series came to a natural end with the change of season: Spring was in the air, the Spring Series was fledged.
With the Spring Series and with lighter nights to play with things got more ambitious. I wanted to run a series of different races; something new every week to keep interest high. The C.G.C.C. and This Is Sheffield crew ride all different kinds of bikes and I wanted a series to reflect that. We’ve raced dual, had a pump track time trial and a mini DH, but still to come are XC races, hill climbs, Urban DH, Enduro’s, BMX track laps, cycle speedway and anything else we can make up. The evolution and momentum of the series is well illustrated by the latest race which eclipsed everything before it.
The idea was to meet up for a ride at predetermined coordinates, ride up a section together, then at the top put our bikes down and walk away ready for a Le Mans style start. With an uphill sprint on the word go, we’d grab the bikes and pin it back down to where we started from. The killer twist was actually the downfall of many a fast rider: I’d brought along a selection of real ales and at the finish each rider had to neck a pint before crossing the line.
On the day 36 riders turned up and most knew what was about to happen, though it was still shrouded in rumour for many. We all gathered where X marked the spot and helmet cams were handed around: this one needed to get recorded for posterity. Once amassed, we rode up the hill, paused briefly for an explanation of the finish rules and where the Kaliber was for the teetotallers. No one knew exactly what we were riding beforehand and there was no practice so this was the only chance to figure out lines. Peaty turned up to watch, as did Brian Lopes who was in the country to race up at Dalby. This added a whole other level of excitement and there was lots of banter as we reached the first major feature: an off–camber scree slope with a nasty entrance and exit. Not bad when you’re on your own, but elbow to elbow with your mates it’s a different story. Further up there was a decent drop with nasty consequences for coming up short.
Before the Le Mans start, all the bikes were turned upside down and lined up at which point we turned out backs and walked 50 metres down the hill to await starters orders, in this case Peaty doing his best super cross impersonation. From the word Go, the carnage kicked off: elbows out and knees up, we ran for our bikes but with everyone having lined their bikes up like dominos, it was easy to knock some of them down as I ran past. I was quick out of the ‘gate’ due to my pole position and I left the massacre behind. Once riding we slalomed down the first section getting tight into a few grassy corners before being spat out on to a tarmac section with big grass car parking bumps to slalom on our way down: the brave did it death–gripping the bars. After the first gate we were in the strange landscape of The Broken Road, closed since the early 1980’s due to subsidence. If you survived that it was a long right on to a slick, grassy half pipe before rolling onto tarmac for a sprint to the finish where the fun really started. Gasping for breath everyone had to grab and neck a pre–poured pint. The professional drinkers didn’t struggle, but the rest of us were left losing valuable finishing places or puking beer before crossing the line. Watching back the video, it looks, and I guess is, ridiculous. Once we were all done and the marshals had returned, it was time for the usual prize giving. James Swinden was, as ever, the man to beat and led from the start, chased by Tim Pearson in second and Luke Meredith in third. Katie Hallam took the ladies crown coming in 16th out of 31 finishers.
I know we’re not unique; there are other mates races going on around the world all the time and there’s a reason for that. In this time of austerity it’s a great way to keep racing and keep your hand in if you can’t afford the bigger, more expensive, official weekend battles. If you haven’t tried this yet, now’s the time; just be willing to stand up, get organised, hold a stop watch and click the buttons as your mates ride past. Racing might not be everyone’s idea of fun on a bike but when it’s done with mates, I’ve yet to meet the rider who hasn’t gone home grinning. All you need is a great bunch of mates who see the value in what you’re doing and will egg you on and help you out. Without them you’ll get nowhere and have a very boring race for one.
Keep up with the rest of the spring series at ThisISheffield.co.uk.